The story begins with teenage me purchasing a homemade cassette tape that caught my eye in the record store I then frequented. Its title, “Black Industrial Diamonds”, got my interest because hey I liked industrial music. The story continues with me loving the shit out of that tape for years and years, despite having no idea who the people behind it were.
Some time in 2013 I managed to track down the members of Lid 11, Robert Williams and Kurt Wilhelm, online. I convinced them to answer a few interview questions over e-mail for a piece I intended to write for a music blog called Rid Of Me. The piece was indeed published on said blog, but that blog has long since disappeared and I never kept a copy of whatever I wrote for it, which would have mostly just been a brief introduction not entirely unlike this one.
I did, however, find the old email messages. So today I resurrect my interview with Lid 11. An digital copy I made of my cassette (still have it!) can be found somewhere on this blog, but a probably even better one now exists on a Bandcamp page of Iowa underground music operated by Kristian Day in conjunction with his show Iowa Basement Tapes on KFMG Community Radio. Incidentally, KFMG could really use your support (money, in particular) at this time, and I’d suggest hitting this gofundme. Iowa Basement Tapes airs Thursdays at 9pm central and past episodes are available in podcast form. Coincidentally, River City Reader just posted this piece about the show today.
CF = me, KW = Kurt, RW = Rob. Kurt’s answers were received by me on May 27, 2013 and Rob’s the following December 9.
CF: So I came across Black Industrial Diamonds in the old “local artists” display they used to have at the old Co-Op Records in Cedar Falls, when it was in the location in front of College Square Mall, and this must have been some time between 1992 and 1995, I think. Do you recall the actual year?
KW: I would pin it as ‘91 or ‘92. All the credit goes to Rob for actually getting it into the stores. I don’t remember how many he took it to. Honestly, I only remember it being the Co-Op on campus.
RW: Woulda been my senior year at UNI 91-92. Co-op was the only store I put it in, my good friend Eric Helming worked there at the time and helped me grease the skids. Otherwise I sold it over the internet newsgroups and mailed it out. No idea how many we sold total.
CF: And I think you were students at UNI [University of Northern Iowa] at the time?
KW: Yes. I met Rob in a math or computer science class I think junior year. We lived in an apartment together our senior year.
RW: Yup. Kurt and I hit it off immediately. In a world of nerds we were obliviously meant to connect up.
CF: How did you decide to start Lid 11?
KW: Rob was into punk pretty heavy at the time and I was more into alt. rock. But we both have a pretty healthy appreciation of all music. Rob more so than I so he really deserves credit for influencing some of the directions I branched out into. He definitely was the genesis for my intro into industrial. We both had a knack for comp. sci and math. So, we had a PC in our apartment and found a piece of 4-track sequencing software. And this software was seriously old school. It was DOS based and 100% sample driven. I believe there were some default instruments that were provided but a majority of the sounds on BID were sampled using a microphone on existing pieces of music or TV. So, we would import the samples and pitch shift a lot of them. Honestly I think Lid 11 was started from the formula of 2 guys who like music + math backgrounds + PC + discovery of 4-track software.
RW: That is a pretty good summary of it. Big Black was a huge influence on me when I was younger, they not only got me into industrial music but they introduced me to bands like Kraftwerk via their cover of “The Model”. Punk and Hardcore were my first love, but I have always had a deep appreciation for a wide variety of music. Early hip hop was introduced to me in 7th grade by my friend Willie Casey when he moved into my small town and I have a love for it to this day.
CF: What was the origin of the name Lid 11? (At the time I suspected it was a play on the band Box 10).
KW: Unfortunately the truth isn’t that exciting. I’m pretty sure I just saw a Lid 11 sticker on the lid of a garbage can. Seemed to be a fitting name for the project. Rob picked the title Black Industrial Diamonds. Honestly, I think my favorite part is still the cassette cover. I love the picture of that kid on some sort of breathing machine. I was quite happy you had the scan of that as well.
RW: LOL forgot about the trash can lid but that is spot on. No idea where we got the cover photo but I agree it is a keeper. Funny you mention Box10 though, I was a housemate of (Box10 frontman) Chuck Varley’s at UNI. He lives up near me in Minneapolis and I still see him from time to time.
CF: What were each of your roles in the band/project?
KW: We each wrote our songs separately. He would write one and then give up the chair and I would write one.
RW: Yup. And I would be doing a huge disservice if I didnt say that Kurt’s songs on BID were by far better. My songs are half finished scraps that were usually made to annoy our other roomie (Hi Greg!). Kurt’s song are amazing and utterly complete. I have many of them on my phone to this day, my favorite being “Slums” which has that awesome sample from the “River’s Edge” in it. I am listening to it right now and it is killing me. I will be repeating that sample all day tomorrow. The Price is Right samples he used on “Marrow” were pure comedy gold, still makes me laugh. The polythythms he programmed on such crude equipment on “Leonard Smalls” are nothing short of amazing. I have made music with a lot of people since Lid11, but none of them impressed me as being as uniquely personal as Kurt.
CF: Kurt, is that you listed in the credits as “Willard”? Were there any other members in the group?
KW: Yes, I was Willard. We pretty much monopolized the computer so there were no other members.
RW: Did we list the computer? I thought I remember doing that as an ode to Big Black listing their drum machine.
CF: Was there any other place that you made this tape available, or only at that one store?
KW: Rob can answer this. He was the brainchild of getting it out into public. Quite frankly I thought it would be crazy that anyone would want to listen to it.
RW: Just Co-Op and the usenet groups.
CF: Any particular music or artists that you recall having inspired or influenced Lid 11?
KW: I wish I could remember for sure if the bands that come to mind were what we were listening to at the time. I’d say Ministry, RevCo, Skinny Puppy, Pailhead, Godflesh. But the idea of sampling was ingrained in me by Art of Noise back in ‘84. So getting to apply that was great.
RW: Good list, Willard. For me I would add Big Black, Coil and Einstürzende Neubauten at the time.
CF: I love the harsh graininess/distortion of a lot of the sounds. I hear artists these days going for a similar quality and describing it as “bitcrushed.” On Black Industrial Diamonds was that something intentional or a product of the equipment used?
KW: 100% intentional.
RW: Id say a little bit of both. We had little choice so we embraced it. As I got more into making music and started obsessing more and more on the “production” end of things I really grew to miss that. The more I obsessed on the production quality of my music the less of my soul seemed to be in the actual music.
CF: Any reason the sides of the tape are titled “Good Side” and “Bad Side”?
KW: I don’t think so other than naming them something besides the generic Side A and Side B.
RW: That was to make us seem deep. It was a mirage.
CF: Were there ever any other Lid 11 songs or albums besides what’s on Black Industrial Diamonds?
KW: No, unfortunately it was a one time thing.
RW: We did record a bit together after we graduated, I think I have a DAT tape around somewhere with a song or 2 on it. I also redid a Lid11 song under the name “Manna Machine” for a Chicago industrial compilation CD in 93 or so. Wasn’t as good as the original.
CF: Did Lid 11 ever perform live?
KW: Man, that would have been awesome, but no.
RW: The guy who ran Co-Op told us we should “wear funny suits and masks and just stand dead still on stage”. At the time we thought he was nuts but looking back that would have been an awesome thing to do.
CF: Have you been involved in any other bands or music projects before or since?
KW: Rob has but I haven’t. After college he amassed a huge collection of analog equipment that was a beautiful sight to see. How much of that do you still have Rob? I remember attending a rave that he and someone else played at. Although, any material he released after college I don’t have a copy of. If you have that Rob you should send it to me. I have tried to write music on an off several times but I just don’t have the time to dedicate to it. I wish I did.
RW: I put out quite a few records as “fEEd” and “Tempest” but havent seriously made music for about 10 years. I still have all the production equipment, just not the time. Though I have been feeling the itch lately and have some people I would like to collaberate with.
CF: Would you ever be interested in having Black Industrial Diamonds re-issued? Do you still have master copies?
KW: Hells yeah but I don’t know who would be interested in that. I don’t have a master copy.
RW: Well, the master copy would be an old cassette tape somewhere unless I could boot up my old 386 somehow. I would be much more interested in doing new music with Kurt than re-issuing BID frankly. Especially now that things have progressed along to the point that the distance between us really wouldn’t stop us from doing so.
KW: Thanks Chuck for the interest. It’s great to know someone out there still appreciates something we did 20+ years ago. It was a lot of fun doing. Especially with Rob. He is still one of the very few people I have known who had a healthy appreciation of all music and is also probably one of the smartest people I’ve ever met.
RW: You need to meet more people Kurt, but thanks. And thanks to you Chuck, it really has been cool thinking about Lid11 again. At the time we had no idea if anyone at all was listening to it or liked it. Cool to know that it reached at least a few people out there. I know I still have a place in my heart for it.